“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” ~Leonardo da Vinci
Perhaps the quote explains Mona Lisa’s mysterious smile. Maybe she adopted her creator’s philosophy and practiced yoga!
Fast forward in time from the Italian Renaissance to a smiling lady at an Italian Beaux Art villa in LA. Her name is Jennifer Herrera. Besides her degrees in law and spiritual psychology, she’s applied her smarts to brand building. (Think Gap, American Eagle Outfitters and Sony Electronics.) “When I was in the prime of my first career and stressed out, I found yoga again,” says Jennifer. “It saved my life.”
A decade later she’s a yoga teacher. In fact, she’s teaching on Tuesday, August 21st at 7:30 pm in the backyard of the aforementioned Beaux Art Villa. (The historic mansion is headquarters to - PAL&G - Peace Awareness Labyrinth & Gardens.)
To clarify, the PAL&G backyard boasts a 3-tiered meditation garden and a Chartres Cathedral inspired labyrinth. (Sometimes called a Moving Meditation.) By day, the labyrinth is carpeted with those contemplating life. On the evening of August 21st, yoga mats will crisscross the labyrinth.
Jennifer says, “Yoga at the labyrinth is a beautiful opportunity to say "YES" to the body, mind and spirit. We will be touching all of those dimensions during our experience. I would also add that all levels are welcome. If you were ever to begin yoga, there's no better place than the sacred ground of Peace Awareness Labyrinth & Gardens.”
My interview with Jennifer about yoga and life follows.
Q: What forms of yoga do you practice?
JH: I practice and teach a combination of hatha and vinyasa that is also heavily influenced by Iynengar. What this means is that I slowly build my practice from the ground up consciously awakening the body, holding in postures and linking breath to movement. I am not a power yoga teacher. I can enjoy those classes from time to time and I have found that my peace is in the slow build.
Q: What can you guarantee or almost guarantee students will walk away with after Yoga at the Labyrinth?
JH: All willing and open participants will absolutely walk away with an experiential reference of peace within themselves and their bodies.
Q: How often do you practice?
JH: I practice 3-5 times a week and sometimes that is a 20 minute evening restorative practice.
Q: What’s the greatest gift you’ve received from yoga?
Healing the relationship with my body. Through my practice of yoga, learning about and feeling into parts of my body I never had prior, I began to relate to my body as an apprentice. Instead of constantly evaluating it externally, I began to steep in the wonder of its miraculous nature. I am so grateful for this new context, awareness and healing.
Q: Advice for the inflexible or stiff jointed?
JH: Gentleness - with your body and with your mind. The physical practice of yoga is really a distraction to reduce the noise of the mind. Yoga is not about flexibility. That is a misnomer. Actually bodies that are very flexible or hyper-mobile can injure themselves if they don't know how to back off. I begin almost every day feeling a bit stiff and inflexible. Yoga has actually supported me in better listening to my body so I know how to gently wake it up and support blood circulation to the joints, ligaments, tendons and muscles. Whenever possible use props during your practice. A simple blanket or thick towel can make all the difference.
Q: What’s been the greatest challenge in practicing yoga? How do you or did you overcome that?
JH: Growing my patience and learning to quiet the mind. There are metaphorical opportunities arriving all throughout a yoga practice if we are open to them. For example, how we relate to ourselves and the world while on our mat is a reflection of how we relate to ourselves and the world off the mat. Allowing that to be okay rather than a space to judge ourselves is when the practice takes on a whole new level of growth and expansion. Although the practice of yoga can be and feel rather serious, it's so important not to take ourselves too seriously. When we can loosen up and allow for the space our practice deepens. When I have tried to force a posture that my body is rejecting but my mind is attached to "doing," I struggle and get uptight. When I heed my body's communication and back off, I soften and relax. These two paths of relating impact my entire practice and often what occurs after. Over time, I have learned to leave it all on my mat, to use the entire experience to let it all go. It's literally my physical therapy, spiritual practice and self-care all in one. I am never sorry I did yoga.
Q: Who’s been your biggest influence, inspiration in yoga?
JH: My teachers. The first one was a woman I began practicing with around 2008 in Manhattan. Her classes were like mini-workshops. I didn't know that at the time and she has been the single biggest influence on my practice and my teaching approach. She weaved in depth and breadth into every 75 minute class and I found the teacher in me by being her student. They say, “When the student is ready the teacher arrives.” I am so grateful.
Q: Besides, Peace Awareness Labyrinth & Gardens, where is the most exquisite place you’ve done yoga?
JH: In the lush forest of a small town in the south west part of France. Just me and nature. It was Heaven on earth.